Armored Warfare: Impressions & Global Operations17 Oct 2016 4
The breakthrough multiplayer hit World of Tanks has inspired a number of like-minded games and simulations in recent years, not least among them Armored Warfare and War Thunder - the former (until now) a mere irritant and the latter a persistent thorn in Wargaming.net’s side. Even more so when Gaijin incorporated armoured units into its multiplayer flight combat game at more or less the same time as World of Warplanes took to the air.
Unsurprisingly the arguments over which “free to play” online tank game offers the better mechanised combat experience have been raging ever since, with World of Tanks generally seen as the more competitive and accessible game (and by far the most popular), while War Thunder offers up more authentic combined arms arenas. Until recently genre newcomer Armored Warfare seemed content to hunker down in World of Tanks’ shadow, but with the imminent release of a new Global Operations gameplay mode, Obsidian Entertainment’s unlikely WoT-killer looks ready and able to distinguish itself.
If you’ve already sampled Armored Warfare you’ll know it’s much closer in scope and spirit to World of Tanks than it is to War Thunder. Essentially it takes the established WoT template, retires virtually all of its pre-1950 vehicles and replaces them with those from the second half of last Century, up to and beyond those of the present day. There is some crossover, with the likes of the Centurion playable in both titles, but essentially Armored Warfare’s tech tree grows out from rather than withers in the dawn mists of Cold War, meaning that the tracks squeal and the turrets wobble much less than virtual tank commanders might be currently used to.
The fundamentals of driving vehicles and firing weapons are especially familiar. Thanks to the modelling of modern suspension systems the ride is a lot smoother and firing on the move is positively encouraged, with Obsidian borrowing the tried-and-tested targeting systems of its WWII-focused rivals: the reticle giving players a traffic light probability of penetrating the target, the same right-click auto-aim and Shift-key zoom functions. Needless to say that if you’ve put a few hours into World of Tanks and have been eager to progress to a more modern and homogenised fleet of vehicles, you will feel immediately at home playing Armored Warfare.
Of course Armored Warfare does have some distinguishing features beyond the obvious focus on modern-day war machines, most of which are very welcome. For one thing there’s a decent PvE mode, featuring changing capture points and a good selection of large maps, sometimes twice as big as those in World of Tanks with buildings such as refineries and apartment blocks that dominate the landscape far more than in any WWII tank game thus far. The scenery isn’t as destructible as with a modern Frostbite-powered game, but the CryEngine, soon to star in the likes of Star Citizen (Hah! -ED) and Kingdom Come, proves itself to be more than capable at lighting up the game’s dynamic multiplayer battles, and doing so on modest hardware too. Even in beta, with no doubt whole chunks of un-optimised code still rattling about inside, the game is every bit as smooth and in terms of scale and detail just that little bit more impressive than any of the competition.
But the biggest and most recent innovation to Armored Warfare is the aforementioned Global Operations, a mode recently introduced to the test server that is due to be rolled out to the main beta servers in the next major update. It’s a PvP mode in which both sides are allocated tickets, so rather than being eliminated and forced to retreat to the garage or watch passively from the virtual sidelines, you can re-enter the battle at one of three spawn points until such time as your team runs out of resources, which are reduced whenever tanks and control points are lost to the enemy. So far so Battlefield 4, right? Ah, but what makes Global Ops interesting is that as well as the three main control points, there are fleeting Wildcard control zones, bestowing the ability to launch air strikes and drop AT pillboxes, the kind of fire support every tank commander needs in a fix. In addition extreme weather, such as a dust storm, can engulf the map, reducing visibility and allowing the other team to take the initiative. With an AI faction also on the field fighting whichever player comes near them, there’s a lot going on.
Unfortunately Global Ops does seem to push Armored Warfare further away from being an accurate simulation than it already is, but whereas World of Tanks feels more like a toy box you can pull your favourite vehicles from and have pretend fights with, Armored Warfare does at least offer players more of a cohesive progression, with credits earned from battle spent on a much wider range of upgrades, the game’s premium Gold currency a little less egregious (no gold ammo) and a more accessible levelling and skill mechanic for commanders and crew.
The tank classes remain broadly comparable, light tanks translating into IFVs and the heavy tanks of old replaced with MBTs. Tank destroyers, which in Armored Warfare are generally wheeled, seem to be an anachronism carried over more by WoT’s popularity than anything else, but there are a few ATGM carriers higher in the tech trees to fill out the branches. As for artillery, although indirect fire is less effective in AW, support fire from smoke and illumination rounds that reveal nearby units lend the class more of a support role.
Although there’s a familiar approach to technology tiers, ranging from the M113, Pattons and T-54s at the bottom, the Mk.5 Chieftain, BMP-2 and Type 85s in the mid tiers and the apex predators being the likes of the Russian T-14, vehicles are allocated to one of three arms dealers with players aligned with PMCs rather than sovereign militaries. Fundamentally it’s the same faction-based system as in other tank games, with the subtle and important difference being that the vehicles are not as artificially balanced. It also means Obsidian can slot in tanks from smaller nations or manufacturers as and when necessary without having to devise partly fictitious tech trees.
Whether Armored Warfare goes far enough to distinguish itself from the competition remains to be seen, but the Global Ops update is certainly a caterpillar track in the right direction. Obsidian could go further, with helicopter gunships one day hovering around the battlefield, more asynchronous game modes as befitting 21st Century warfare and perhaps even a nod to the very particular preferences of simulation fans.
The problem is that despite being in open beta for a year, with stable performance underpinning it and some much needed innovation being introduced, there doesn’t seem to be a vast number of people actually playing. If Obsidian want Armored Warfare to be seen as more than a modern day World of Tanks imitation and steal away some of its tens of millions of players, the team will have to deploy more of its big gun ideas sooner rather than later.